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Jingoism will not improve matters

“Indians are angry and hurt as never before”, the Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh is reported as saying, with reference to the horrifying happenings in Mumbai. The media, websites and blog spots are resonating with war cries. They want all the terrorist camps said to be numbering 37 in Pakistan and 49 in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to be wiped out. There are also strident calls for the citizenry and the country’s armed forces to join the operations of the US in Pakistan, specially targeting its intractable tribal areas. There are insistent demands for disenfranchising Indian Muslims, starting with the illegal immigrants, so that the political class no longer feels compelled to nurture them as vote banks and pander to them.

Mr B.Raman, the counter-terrorism expert, who has a wide following, urges immediate revival of the covert action capability of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which was wound up in 1997 during I.K.Gujral’s prime ministership, and giving it a free hand to impose prohibitive costs on Pakistan till it stops supporting the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) and other jihadi terrorist organisations. His passionate plea is: “A divided Pakistan, a bleeding Pakistan, a Pakistan ever on the verge of collapse without actually collapsing—-that should be our objective till it stops using terrorism against India.” What if Pakistan and terror outfits operating from its territory retaliate by carpeting different parts of India with terror attacks? Mr Raman is unrelenting: “That should not deter us from embarking on this policy”, he says.Not only the incensed intelligentsia but also the normally sober policy analysts want Pakistan taught a lesson that it would never forget. Would that Indira Gandhi were alive, they bemoan to themselves: She would have overrun Pakistan and made it a newly carved part of an enlarged Indian federation!

Call to arms

Well: One has to allow for an upsurge of sabre-rattling and spirit of revenge immediately after a catastrophic attack such as the one in Mumbai. The outpourings of emotion are, in that sense, natural and understandable. But, cooler reflection will make it abundantly clear that the path of confrontation and conflict with Pakistan is not in the country’s interest now or ever. Here is why.

The vociferous call to arms ignores the fact of both countries being in possession of nuclear weapons, and the associated delivery systems and command and control mechanisms. They are, therefore, capable of wiping out habitations and populations on a horrendous scale. Any recourse to war will be asking for mutually assured destruction (MAD).To many belligerent bloggers MAD is a red herring serving only as an excuse for pussy-footing by the Government and policy-strategy pundits and bureaucrats to hamstring India. According to their line of thinking, neither India nor Pakistan has enough nuclear weapons to bring about MAD.

Even if the possibility of MAD is discounted, it will be utterly indefensible and reckless for India, which is already facing an economic downslide, to go to war with Pakistan, or even to risk one by indulging in provocative acts. The strains and tensions coupled with the damage and devastation will leave both countries in a shambles. In the case of India, the phenomenal resources and the efforts required for bringing the country back to normal will siphon off all the economic gains that India had so painstakingly built up over the years and mean putting the clock back by several decades.

Ruling by sufferance

Second, the description by the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, of the militant or terrorist outfits as non-State actors is not a far-fetched one. One can quite believe that these are murderous desperadoes owing allegiance to no one except to their own psychotic fixations, and running berserk intent on pursuing their own nefarious goals regardless of whether they target the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad or Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. It may be unpalatable for Indian ears, but it is a truth nevertheless that jihadi fanatics have been regarding Pakistan also as a fair game for their depredations.

The Pakistan Government, notionally civilian and elected, is not yet firmly on the saddle. It is under the shadow of the military and ruling by sufferance, if not by proxy. All signs are that it is either incapable of, or incapacitated from, exercising control over the terrorist outfits or even known individuals operating as their members. To lay the blame for the terrorist outrages solely at its doors and make that the casus belli may not be entirely fair.

Just transpose this to the Indian context: Can’t similar questions be raised by the people about the inexplicable inability or unwillingness of the UPA Government to carry out the death sentence, confirmed by the Supreme Court, no less, on a terrorist who was convicted for the attack on Indian Parliament? Doesn’t the Indian Government have problems entering areas infested by Naxalites or insurgent groups? Didn’t the West Bengal Government lose all control over Nandigram for a couple of months last year?

Third, in respect of India’s demand for the return of perpetrators of heinous acts on the Indian soil who have taken refuge in Pakistan, the regimes there have invariably been complaining that the material adduced as evidence is inadequate. Instead of dismissing this as a mere diversionary ploy, the Cabinet Secretary should be given the task of going into the documentation furnished to Pakistan and reporting to the Government about the evidence being clinching. Before refusal to hand back the persons wanted by India is construed as a hostile act, the Government at the highest level should satisfy itself about the evidence being conclusive.

Shrill clamour

Looked at from whatever angle, the shrill clamour for an Israeli type of action is born out of mere jingoism.The present situation needs to be handled with finesse and maturity. If the Government feels that the public mood being what it is, it has to show some sign of pressuring Pakistan to bring it to its senses, there are measures short of war such as the ones suggested by Mr B.Raman, to wit, downgrading the diplomatic relations with Pakistan, terminating all economic relations including bilateral trade and communication links, suspending the confidence-building measures and the so-called peace process, putting on hold all further talks on the gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan and withdrawing from the so-called joint counter-terrorism mechanism, an exercise in futility forced on Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh by the US.

At best, this will only mollify the hawks, and will not achieve the real objectives of shutting down the terrorist camps, putting out of action the LET and its terrorist leaders and infrastructure, and handing over to India the terrorists wanted for trial in India. The US alone, howsoever much it wishes to help India, may not measure up to India’s expectations, since it may have to reckon with Pakistan holding the trumps in the Americans’ conception of the global war on terror. India should, therefore, adopt the same strategy as Indira Gandhi did when conditions in the then East Pakistan came close to endangering the stability and security of India. She visited all important capitals and impressed on the Heads of Governments the imperative need for collective action by the world community, failing which India might be constrained to take whatever steps are necessary to protect its interests.

The Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh, too will do well to send a high-profile emissary to explain to Governments of China, EU countries, Saudi Arabia and Japan the situation in which India finds itself and seek their support to pressure Pakistan – the civilian as well as the military power structure – to conform to the action plan approved by the UN to fight terrorism. If necessary, India should also take the case formally to the Security Council after preparing the ground as above.

( The writer, Mr B.S.Raghavan, is a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service, former Adviser to the UN and Chief Secretary to the Governments of West Bengal and Tripura. He is presently the Patron of the Chennai Centre for China studies.mail:braghavan@hotmail.com)

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